To represent the multi-dimensional nature of student engagement at national, sector, institutional, and intra-institutional levels, NSSE developed ten Engagement Indicators organized within four engagement themes:
Reflective & Integrative Learning
|Learning with Peers||
Discussions with Diverse Others
|Experiences with Faculty||
Student-Faculty Interaction |
Effective Teaching Practices
Quality of Interactions
Each Engagement Indicator provides valuable information about a distinct aspect of student engagement by summarizing students' responses to a set of related survey questions. Detailed descriptions of each indicator and component items are below.
- A one page handout describing the Engagement Indicators and High-Impact Practices for easy reference.
- The four engagement themes were adapted from the former Benchmarks of Effective Educational Practice.
- Summary tables of Engagement Indicators and responses to all survey items by student and institutional characteristics.
- A sample of the Engagement Indicators report.
Development of the Engagement Indicators
Engagement Indicators were created with a blend of theory and empirical analysis. Items were rigorously tested using both quantitative and qualitative methods during a multi-year development process. This process involved conducting focus groups and cognitive interviews with students and two years of pilot testing and analysis. Various statistical procedures were used to assess the validity and reliability of the Engagement Indicators including principal components analysis, confirmatory factor analysis, reliability analysis, generalizability theory, and item response theory.
Evidence of construct validity for the EI's was provided by factor analysis. We examined EI factor structures through exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis (EFA/CFA), concluding that the EIs have sufficiently strong construct validity evidence to support their use for college and university assessment efforts.
Engagement Indicator reliabilities (Cronbach's alpha) and item correlations are reported here.
To facilitate comparisons over time, as well as between groups of students within or between institutions, each Engagement Indicator is expressed on a 60-point scale. Computing Engagement Indicator scores involves three steps.
- First, all items that contribute to an Engagement Indicator are converted to a 60-point scale. For example, items with four response options (e.g., Never, Sometimes, Often, and Very often) are recoded with values of 0, 20, 40, or 60. Thus an Engagement Indicator score of zero means that every student chose the lowest response option for every item in that indicator, while a score of 60 means that every student chose the highest response to every item.
- Second, recoded values for each component item are averaged together. For Engagement Indicators with five or more items (Reflective & Integrative Learning, Effective Teaching Practices, Quality of Interactions, and Supportive Environment) a mean was calculated for each student who answered all items or all but one of the items in the Engagement Indicator. For instance, a student must have answered at least four of the five Effective Teaching Practices items in order to receive an Effective Teaching Practices score. In contrast, a student must answer all three Quantitative Reasoning items in order to receive a Quantitative Reasoning score.
- Finally, institutional Engagement Indicator scores are the weighted averages of the student-level scores for each class level. (More information about weighting can be found here.)
When interpreting Engagement Indicator results, keep in mind that individual student scores vary much more within institutions than do average scores between institutions. For example, while the average scores for "Top 10%" institutions demonstrate, in a relative sense, what high levels of engagement look like, the distributions reported in the Annual Results show that a large portion of students at these high-performing institutions are no more engaged than the typical student at all NSSE institutions. Likewise, institutions with lower average scores may have some students who are more engaged than the typical student at top-scoring institutions.
Engagement Indicator Descriptions and Component Items
Theme: Academic Challenge
Challenging intellectual and creative work is central to student learning and collegiate quality. Colleges and universities promote high levels of student achievement by calling on students to engage in complex cognitive tasks requiring more than mere memorization of facts. This Engagement Indicator captures how much students' coursework emphasizes challenging cognitive tasks such as application, analysis, judgment, and synthesis. Items include:
- Applying facts, theories, or methods to practical problems or new situations
- Analyzing an idea, experience, or line of reasoning in depth by examining its parts
- Evaluating a point of view, decision, or information source
- Forming a new idea or understanding from various pieces of information
Reflective & Integrative Learning
Personally connecting with course material requires students to relate their understandings and experiences to the content at hand. Instructors emphasizing reflective and integrative learning motivate students to make connections between their learning and the world around them, reexamining their own beliefs and considering issues and ideas from others' perspectives. Items include:
- Combined ideas from different courses when completing assignments
- Connected your learning to societal problems or issues
- Included diverse perspectives (political, religious, racial/ethnic, gender, etc.) in course discussions or assignments
- Examined the strengths and weaknesses of your own views on a topic or issue
- Tried to better understand someone else's views by imagining how an issue looks from his or her perspective
- Learned something that changed the way you understand an issue or concept
- Connected ideas from your courses to your prior experiences and knowledge
College students enhance their learning and retention by actively engaging with and analyzing course material rather than approaching learning as absorption. Examples of effective learning strategies include identifying key information in readings, reviewing notes after class, and summarizing course material. Knowledge about the prevalence of effective learning strategies helps colleges and universities target interventions to promote student learning and success. Items include:
- Identified key information from reading assignments
- Reviewed your notes after class
- Summarized what you learned in class or from course materials
Quantitative literacy—the ability to use and understand numerical and statistical information in everyday life— is an increasingly important outcome of higher education. All students, regardless of major, should have ample opportunities to develop their ability to reason quantitatively—to evaluate, support, and critique arguments using numerical and statistical information. Items include:
- Reached conclusions based on your own analysis of numerical information (numbers, graphs, statistics, etc.)
- Used numerical information to examine a real-world problem or issue (unemployment, climate change, public health, etc.)
- Evaluated what others have concluded from numerical information
Theme: Learning with Peers
Collaborating with peers in solving problems or mastering difficult material deepens understanding and prepares students to deal with the messy, unscripted problems they encounter during and after college. Working on group projects, asking others for help with difficult material or explaining it to others, and working through course material in preparation for exams all represent collaborative learning activities. Items include:
- Asked another student to help you understand course material
- Explained course material to one or more students
- Prepared for exams by discussing or working through course material with other students
- Worked with other students on course projects or assignments
Discussions with Diverse Others
Colleges and universities afford students new opportunities to interact with and learn from others with different backgrounds and life experiences. Interactions across difference, both inside and outside the classroom, confer educational benefits and prepare students for personal and civic participation in a diverse and interdependent world. Items include:
- People from a race or ethnicity other than your own
- People from an economic background other than your own
- People with religious beliefs other than your own
- People with political views other than your own
Theme: Experiences with Faculty
Interactions with faculty can positively influence the cognitive growth, development, and persistence of college students. Through their formal and informal roles as teachers, advisors, and mentors, faculty members model intellectual work, promote mastery of knowledge and skills, and help students make connections between their studies and their future plans. Items include:
- Talked about career plans with a faculty member
- Worked with a faculty member on activities other than coursework (committees, student groups, etc.)
- Discussed course topics, ideas, or concepts with a faculty member outside of class
- Discussed your academic performance with a faculty member
Effective Teaching Practices
Student learning is heavily dependent on effective teaching. Organized instruction, clear explanations, illustrative examples, and effective feedback on student work all represent aspects of teaching effectiveness that promote student comprehension and learning. Items include:
- Clearly explained course goals and requirements
- Taught course sessions in an organized way
- Used examples or illustrations to explain difficult points
- Provided feedback on a draft or work in progress
- Provided prompt and detailed feedback on tests or completed assignments
Theme: Campus Environment
Quality of Interactions
College environments characterized by positive interpersonal relations promote student learning and success. Students who enjoy supportive relationships with peers, advisors, faculty, and staff are better able to find assistance when needed, and to learn from and with those around them. Items include:
- Academic advisors
- Student services staff (career services, student activities, housing, etc.)
- Other administrative staff and offices (registrar, financial aid, etc.)
Institutions that are committed to student success provide support and involvement across a variety of domains, including the cognitive, social, and physical. These commitments foster higher levels of student performance and satisfaction. This Engagement Indicator summarizes students' perceptions of how much an institution emphasizes services and activities that support their learning and development. Items include:
- Providing support to help students succeed academically
- Using learning support services (tutoring services, writing center, etc.)
- Encouraging contact among students from different backgrounds (social, racial/ethnic, religious, etc.)
- Providing opportunities to be involved socially
- Providing support for your overall well-being (recreation, health care, counseling, etc.)
- Helping you manage your non-academic responsibilities (work, family, etc.)
- Attending campus activities and events (performing arts, athletic events, etc.)
- Attending events that address important social, economic, or political issues